DNR 2019 precipitation summary recalls Iowa’s rainy year

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From the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 

Julia Poska | January 10, 2020

2019 was Iowa’s 12th wettest year on record, with an average of 41.49 inches of rainfall across the state, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Rainfall in May, September and October was especially high, while the summer months experienced below average rainfall.

The two-year 2018/2019 period was the wettest on record, with 19 more inches of precipitation than average. Stream flows were above normal all 2019 following heavy snow in the winter months. The rainy spring and fall seasons are indicative of projected climate change models for the region.

2019 temperatures in Iowa were cooler than average, however, by 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit. During the January “Polar Vortex,”one station in Emmet County recorded a -59 degree windchill. Summer was slightly cooler than average, though July and September were warm, andChristmas week broke record temperature highs.


Iowa schools exploring meat alternatives

Photo from Pixabay

Tyler Chalfant | January 9th, 2020

Schools in Benton County, Iowa experimented with plant-based meat alternatives on Wednesday. The meat production industry produces the majority of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, and scientists have said that cutting back on meat consumption is the single biggest way an individual can reduce their environmental impact.

A 2018 study found that 83% of all farmland is used for livestock, while animal products make up only 18% of total calories. Beef is one of the worst contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, releasing 105 kg for every 100 g of protein. In contrast, tofu produces less than 3.5 kg for the same amount of protein. 

The plant-based initiative is a part of Vinton-Shellsburg High School’s Farm to School program, along with the Green Iowa Americorps effort to promote sustainable schools. Green Iowa Energy Efficiency Coordinator noted that opposing meat was not likely to be a popular stance in Iowa. However, limiting the meat in one’s diet can make a difference. 

The program is focused on promoting student health, as Iowa ranks 13th out of all the states in childhood obesity. Nutritionists have repeatedly found plant-based diets to be the healthiest options, while red and processed meats have been linked to increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

A hotter, drier summer has worsened fire season in Australia

Image by ABC News, from flickr

Tyler Chalfant | January 7th, 2019

Though the new year has begun with relatively mild temperatures in Iowa, on the other side of the world, Australia is experiencing an unusually warm summer, leading to deadly fires in the southern part of the continent. The fires escalated over the weekend, as parts of the country hit record high-temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. 

2019 saw Australia’s driest spring on record. The dry season contributed to warmer days and cooler nights, as cloud cover and soil moisture, both of which serve as moderating factors. The dry, warm and windy conditions have led to bigger fires spreading in multiple directions. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the dry conditions are due in part to an air circulation pattern known as the Indian Ocean Dipole, or IOD. When the IOD is in its positive phase, it leads to cooler waters and lower precipitation in Australia. The IOD has been in this positive position for two years in a row, making conditions even drier. This back-to-back positive is unusual, but likely to occur more often going forward as a result of climate change. 

So far, the blazes have burned 12 million acres, an area larger than Switzerland, and claimed 24 lives. Thousands have been evacuated, and the Australian military has been deployed to help in the firefighting efforts. 

Weber pushes natural resource funding in letter

The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund would help protect Iowa’s natural resources (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | January 3, 2020

Iowa Flood Center co-creator and research engineer Larry Weber began the new year with a letter to the editor in the Cedar Rapids Gazette urging Iowans to permanently fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund in 2020.

In 2010, Iowans voted to create the fund, officially amending the state constitution to create a source of permanent funding for protecting and improving the state’s natural resources and their associated benefits . The proposed 3/8 sales tax increase to create revenue for the fund, though, has still not been implemented.

“This funding would allow us to accelerate our conservation efforts to make meaningful improvements to address flooding and improve water quality,” wrote Weber, who has dedicated his career to Iowa’s water quality and quantity challenges.

“Together, we can maintain a strong agricultural economy while protecting our water and natural resources, and at the same time creating an environment where people are drawn to live, work, and recreate,” he concluded.




The environmental harm in holiday fireworks

Photo by Hans, from Pixabay

Tyler Chalfant | January 2nd, 2020

Around the world, 2020 began with countless tiny metallic particles exploding into the air and polluting the atmosphere and water sources. Fireworks are beautiful and exciting, but have been found to have a negative impact on human health, especially when released in large quantities. 

Perchlorate, a chlorine and oxygen compound used in fireworks, has been linked to thyroid problems. The substance has been found seeping into groundwater at unusually high concentrations following fireworks displays, so many states have passed regulations or guidelines in an attempt to limit its presence in drinking water. This problem, as well as the air pollution caused by metallic coloring agents, has led to the development of greener alternatives, including fireworks that are chlorine-free. 

In countries like Iceland and Germany, where personal displays on New Year’s are popular traditions, officials have warned people to use fireworks in moderation, and placed restrictions on their use. This year, India outright banned polluting fireworks for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. In past years, fireworks have worsened the already hazardous air quality in many parts of the country, and have been linked to a 30% to 40% increase in reported breathing problems. 

UI enters final year for 2020 sustainability goals

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UI EV vehicle charging station (via a 2018 Office of Sustainability Report. )

Julia Poska | January 1, 2020

In 2010, former University of Iowa President Sally Mason announced the 2020 Vision: The University of Iowa’s Sustainability Targets. It laid out out sustainability goals to reach within the next decade, which began today. 

The goals were as follows:

1. Become a Net‐negative Energy Consumer

This goal indicated that the university should consume less energy in 2020 than it did in 2010, despite projected growth. Building energy consumption reports from The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) indicate energy energy consumption growth from 2005 to 2013 and 2013 to 2018. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council, though, provided data indicated that energy consumption was below the baseline, if baseline included projected consumption for new buildings.

2. Green Our Energy Portfolio

The document indicated that the University would consume 40% renewable energy in 2020. Since 2010, the university has increased production of energy through renewable biomass sources like oat hulls and miscanthus grass in the on-campus power plant. A 2018 presentation to the campus faculty council reported 17% renewable energy in 2017.

3. Decrease Our Production of Waste

This goal indicated that the university would “divert” (meaning recycle or compost” 60% of waste by 2020. The Office of Sustainability has since implemented a “tiny trash” program to encourage recycling and a dorm room composting program. The most recent data, for 2017, indicates a 38% diversion rate.

4. Reduce the Carbon Impact of Transportation

The university aimed to reduce per-capita fossil fuel emissions from campus transportation methods by 10%. A 2018 report to the university’s staff council reported a 14% reduction in per-capita transportation emissions, due in part to the campus’s fleet of electric vehicles and solar charging station.


5. Increase Student Opportunities to Learn and Practice Principles of Sustainability

6. Support and Grow Interdisciplinary Research in Sustainability‐focused and Related Areas

7. Develop Partnerships to Advance Collaborative Initiatives, both Academic and Operational

The last three goals provided qualitative measures, more difficult to measure and assess directly. The university undoubtedly provides  sustainability opportunities for students, in both practice and research, and has fostered numerous collaborative initiatives.

Stay tuned over the next 364 days to see whether these goals are fully met.



Climate change is more pressing than ever heading into 2020

The Midwest, including Iowa, saw significant flooding this spring. Photo from NOAA

Tyler Chalfant | December 31st, 2019

As the second-hottest year on record rounds out the warmest decade, news and activism on climate change have become more prevalent than ever in 2019. Time magazine named as their Person of the Year climate activist Greta Thunberg, who spoke in Iowa City during her visit to North America. Oxford Languages chose for their Word of the Year “climate emergency,” which the Iowa City City Council also declared, with new goals to reduce emissions enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as recommended by a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And as presidential candidates made numerous visits to the state to win the votes of caucus-goers, many spoke to the urgency of the environmental crisis, with some calling for a “Green New Deal.”

With 14% of voters across the country saying in a recent poll that the climate and environment is their top priority, the issue is likely to play a significant role in the 2020 election. The coming year also marks a “turning point” for several of the goals set in the Paris Climate Agreement, which scientists earlier in 2019 said that we were not on course to meet. With only ten years left to meet the agreement’s goal of cutting carbon emissions by 45% by 2030, the countries who remain a part of the agreement will reconvene for the first time to assess the progress they’ve been able to make and to reevaluate their goals. 

Greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise this year, and are projected to continue rising in 2020, the year may scientists agree emissions need to peak in order to meet the goals set in Paris. Emissions in the U.S. have fallen slightly, but not enough to offset rises in developing countries in Asia. The U.S. remains the largest emitter per capita, and the only country to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. As a result of this move, 2019 was the last time the U.S. will have an official voice in global climate discussions, at least for the near future.